Each year, scientists uncover new information about the critical benefits of nutrients in a fetus’s mental and physical development, including a reduced risk of birth defects and disease in newborns. Prenatal vitamins help, but they can’t do the job alone, which is why diet is so important. Following are the five most important nutrients you need daily to build a healthy baby.
1>>Calcium 1,200 mg
Your developing baby needs this mineral for optimal bone growth. Getting enough calcium also can help prevent you from losing bone density during pregnancy and developing osteoporosis as you age. A day’s worth of calcium: 1 cup fat-free milk, 1 cup instant fortified oatmeal, 1 ounce cheddar cheese, 1 cup low-fat yogurt and a salad with 1 cup chicory greens.
2>>Protein 60 g
The amino acids in protein are responsible for tissue growth and repair in your body as well as your baby’s. “One way to get enough protein each day is to consume two 3-ounce servings of meat, plus three servings of dairy products,” says Lola O’Rourke, M.S., R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “For vegetarians, beans, eggs and nuts are good sources.” Avoid fish with high mercury content such as shark, mackerel and swordfish; safer types such as salmon and flounder are OK—just don’t limit your intake to one type. A day’s worth of protein: 1 cup low-fat milk, 1 egg, 3 ounces turkey breast, 1/2 cup baby lima beans and 3 ounces salmon.
3>>Folate 400 mcg
This B vitamin and its synthetic form, folic acid, help protect against defects of the fetus’s brain and spinal cord, such as spina bifida. Because these neural-tube defects develop in the first 28 days after conception—before many women realize they are pregnant—experts say it is essential that all women of childbearing age eat foods rich in folate or fortified with folic acid, and that they take a daily supplement before becoming pregnant. A day’s worth of folate: 1 cup orange juice from concentrate, 1 cup fortified oatmeal and 1/2 cup chickpeas.
4>>Iron 30 mg
Iron helps both your and your growing baby’s blood transport oxygen throughout your bodies. It also plays an important role in proper muscle and organ function. A day’s worth of iron: 1 cup fortified oatmeal, 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 3 ounces broiled beef tenderloin, 1 baked potato with skin and 2 cups cooked spinach.
5>>Vitamin C 70 mg
A recent study shows that vitamin C may help prevent preterm delivery. How? Researchers suspect this nutrient may be necessary for proper collagen formation, which is key to strengthening your body’s membranes. “You need a good amount of vitamin C to prevent premature rupture of the membranes, which causes preterm delivery,” says Anna-Maria Siega-Riz, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The analysis of 2,064 pregnant women showed that daily intakes of 21 mg or less during the first trimester doubled the risk of preterm delivery. A day’s worth of vitamin C: (choose one of the following) 1 medium navel orange, 1 cup broccoli, 1 cup cantaloupe or 1/4 cup chopped green chili peppers.